Five for the Money These teams made the right moves in their search for affordable additions

April 04, 2004

Frank Catalanotto has good company in replicating the Scott
Hatteberg storyline in Moneyball: An underappreciated player,
making relatively small dollars, is acquired by another club to
plug a lineup hole and contribute in ways best appreciated by the
statistically savvy. Lack of experience, unfavorable home
ballpark characteristics, injury, one-sided platoon split--or all
of the above--have conspired to price these players below market
value, but their new teams reap bargain production.

G.M. Billy Beane's idee fixe after Durazo compiled a .390 OBP
and homered once every 16 at bats during four injury-plagued
seasons with Arizona. Obtained in a four-team trade for minor
league righthander Jason Arnold in December 2002, Durazo, 29,
made $1.065 million last year and provided Oakland with a .374
on-base percentage, 21 home runs and 50 extra-base hits. A poor
defensive first baseman, he'll DH for $2.1 million this season,
and the A's expect to see improved power numbers.

In his first year of arbitration eligibility (he lost), the
former Yankee will make $1.25 million, giving Montreal a
respectable return on the Dec. 16 trade that sent righthander
Javier Vazquez to New York. Johnson has never exceeded 378 at
bats in a season, having battled a bruised wrist in 2002 and a
broken hand in '03. Last year he had a .422 OBP and saw 4.28
pitches per plate appearance, both of which would have ranked in
the AL's top five if he had had enough at bats to qualify. He's
also a developing 25-year-old and a Gold Glove-caliber first

Inferior defense (in rightfield and at first base) and poor
performance against lefthanders (.278 OBP, two home runs
compared with .402, 18 homers against righties) limited the
36-year-old's value to one year, $1 million. But Stairs provides
insurance for Kansas City's most injury-prone players, Juan
Gonzalez and Mike Sweeney, and platooning him with designated
hitter Ken Harvey (.377 OBP, seven home runs in 156 at bats
versus lefties) creates a composite middle-of-the-order masher.

Atlanta won't soon be mistaken for a Moneyball franchise, but
the acquisition of Thomson, who had spent all but nine games of
his six-year career in homer-happy Colorado and Texas (where he
miraculously won 13 games as the No. 1 starter last season),
sure makes Atlanta look like one. The switch to Turner Field
will help Thomson--any place is better than Coors Field and the
Ballpark in Arlington--as will the stewardship of pitching guru
Leo Mazzone. Thomson has always had good control (2.0 walks per
nine innings last year and 2.2 in '02) and should prove well
worth his two years, $7 million.

One of G.M. Theo Epstein's first signings, for $1.85 million in
December 2002, Timlin appealed to Boston because of his superb
control: a 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.3 walks per nine
innings with the Cards and the Phillies in '02. Though Boston's
closer-by-committee failed last year, Timlin was nails, limiting
righthanders to a .198 batting average in 83 2/3 innings, and
his 7.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio was second in the majors, behind
only that of Atlanta's John Smoltz. A strong postseason (9 2/3
scoreless innings) sealed Boston's decision to bring him back,
for $2.75 million. --D.G.H.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE VALUE PACK Good production for the dollar--none makes more than $3.5 million a year--is the common denominator among (from left)Timlin, Johnson, Thomson, Durazo and Stairs. COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/WIREIMAGE.COM [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: JASON WISE [See caption above]